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Interview with Sreeram Iyer, COO for ANZ Bank’s institutional banking business

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CSR initiatives for banks are evolving towards delivering sustainable financial services and adequate coverage to under-banked populaces in developing communities who live beyond the poverty line. We interviewed Sreeram Iyer, COO for ANZ Bank‘s Institutional Banking Business to get a penny for his thoughts on growing role of banks in the quest for financial inclusivity in Asia.


 

  1. Can you give us a quick introduction to the work that ANZ does for financial inclusion?

Sreeram Iyer, COO for ANZ Bank’s Institutional Banking Business

At ANZ, our Purpose is to shape a world where people and communities thrive. Our leadership is very passionate in bringing this purpose to life, and we believe that this passion becomes most powerful when, and if, our personal purpose at an individual level synchronises with that of ANZ.

ANZ has a long and accomplished history in Financial Inclusion programs and is a thought leader on delivering financial education to vulnerable groups within the community. Since 2003, ANZ has been running its flagship MoneyMinded financial education program, which has benefited more than 400,000 people in the Asia Pacific region by improving their financial literacy levels. We have received feedback that the program has raised financial awareness and positive savings habits of the participants, enabling them to start planning their day-to-day finances and saving for the future. In Asia, we have had some notable success with MoneyMinded in India, Singapore, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Besides ANZ’s own financial education program, we have also partnered with Saigon Children’s Charity (SCC) in Vietnam on Project 3E (Educate.Enrich.Employ), in a long-term bid to build 10 schools and educate 4,000 underprivileged children.

Since 2014, we have now built 7 brick-and-mortar schools, which benefit about 2,300 kids. The 8th school is well underway and will be ready by March 2017. We plan to build two more schools by January 2018.

Further details outlining ANZ’s approach to Financial Inclusion are included in the 2016 Corporate Sustainability Review published on anz.com (December 2016).

  1. Why is financial inclusion and the war on poverty more than just a public sector issue?

Financial inclusion is an effective way to combat poverty, as it contributes to individual well-being and community connectedness, leading to greater social and economic participation. This, in turn, enables the economies to grow, both at micro (household) and macro (country) levels.

A person’s financial inclusion is generally defined as their access to safe and affordable financial products and services.

Levels of financial inclusion vary across the markets in which ANZ operates. For example, in some of our Asian markets, close to half of the population is unbanked, with many unbanked people living in rural or remote locations. In these markets, levels of financial literacy tend to be low. To improve the levels of inclusion for these populations, it is essential to focus on Financial Literacy, which broadly covers the following:

  • Knowing how to use financial products and services;
  • Saving money for the future;
  • Making sound financial decisions.

In our home markets of Australia and New Zealand, ANZ’s regular research also identifies groups most likely to have low levels of financial literacy: young people, people with low levels of education, people in ‘blue collar’ occupations and people with low levels of assets and savings.

  1. Which do you see as being the most important private sector industries when it comes to fighting poverty?

While it’s hard for me to speak on behalf of other industries, we definitely can and should learn from the Global Financial Crisis, which hit the banking industry not long ago. It was largely driven by over-leverage and lack of prudent money management practices.

I am confident that financial institutions can lead the way in fighting poverty, particularly in Asia.  At ANZ, our business is about building relationships that create value. By connecting people and businesses, and playing a leading role in workplace participation and diversity, we create a strong, cohesive and vibrant community. Moreover, as explained by McKinsey, financial institutions in general can create value both for themselves and their new customers by teaming up with retail outlets in low-income, often hard-to-reach areas.

  1. How much can Asia learn from a financial inclusion standpoint from other developing markets?

ANZ has a unique position and history in Asia Pacific region, and in fact our Financial Inclusion efforts in the Pacific are often overlooked here in Asia.

One important aspect to be aware of is the government leadership and buy-in, as Financial Inclusion efforts can be boosted quite significantly through leadership by example, as evidenced by Papua New Guinean Prime Minister launching Financial Inclusion workshops in his country back in 2015. ANZ has also played a key role in the National Financial Inclusion Task Force in Fiji, with rural banking trucks visiting villages to do instant banking and facilitate deposits and loans for the residents.

Also, as ANZ’s Purpose states very aptly, it is important to play an active part in our communities and help them thrive.

How many school kids who study math, science, writing and history get to learn practical skills  on managing money and building their savings? None. But I strongly believe that financial inclusion based on sound financial literacy is the model for sustainable improvement. Therefore, it is hugely important to tackle this early at the school curriculum level. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case at all right now.

  1. What advice would you give to a private sector organisation looking to move financial inclusion and fighting poverty out from under their CSR department?

In my opinion, it is all about leadership and less about “departmentalization”. In fact, this was one of the themes covered at a recent talk I gave at National University of Singapore. There are four key factors that drive organisational efforts on CSR, such as:

  • Purpose of the organisation;
  • Tone from the top leadership;
  • Sincerity of intentions;
  • Motivation to drive teams

The article is an original written piece. The views expressed in the post are the author’s own.

Sreeram Iyer is the Chief Operating Officer for ANZ Bank’s Institutional Banking business. He is passionate about Financial Literacy and runs “Project 3E”, a programme to build 10 schools for kids in Vietnam, educating some 4,000 learners by 2018. He lives in Singapore with his family.

Catch Sreeram at the 2017 Financial Inclusion Summit, 18th to 19th April 2017 in Singapore at the Suntec City Convention Centre. To find out more about the very latest in fintech, microinsurance and other financial inclusion initiatives in Asia, CLICK HERE.

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